By Kelly-Jayne McGlynn, Crosswalk.com
God has gifted us all with the incredible ability to bond to another. As a triune God, he is relational at his very core. And since we are made in his image, we are not fully ourselves without being in healthy relationships with God and other people.
However, like many things in life, this amazing gift of human bond can be used improperly, to great detriment of ourselves and others. When someone bonds to another person in a deep but unhealthy way, they can form what some call a “soul tie.” You’ll most often hear about soul ties in the context of spiritual warfare or Christian counseling–some believe that soul ties can serve as a bridge between two people in the spiritual realm that allows demonic forces to pass through.
Unholy soul ties are almost never formed on purpose; but they can be broken. Read on to learn what a soul tie is, how they are formed, and how to break them.
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What Is a Soul Tie?
Because this phrase does not appear anywhere in the Bible, there is no formal definition for soul ties that everyone in Christianity or in Christian counseling can agree on. It seems that there is a debate on whether or not soul ties can be formed in a healthy way; or if all soul ties are unhealthy, unholy, and a part of spiritual warfare.
According to this episode of The Place We Find Ourselves with Adam Young (LCSW, MDiv), they are always unholy, because a soul tie forms “when your soul has come to find rest in someone who means you harm, when you have submitted your soul to a loyalty that is not based on mutuality, goodness, and respect.”
However, others will make the argument that soul ties can be a good thing, like when a godly husband and wife affect each other's souls in a positive way. For the sake of this article, though, I will mostly focus on the negative aspects of a soul tie.
At its most simple definition, a soul tie is a deep bond with someone that affects your soul. Our souls are the immaterial parts of us: our emotions, our thoughts, and our desires. When your soul is tied to another in an unholy way, then that other person has undue influence over you and your life.
Let’s take a look at some examples of what can happen when this occurs (borrowed from the concepts shared in The Place We Find Ourselves by Adam Young).
Illustrating Soul Ties
Some soul ties can be quickly discerned through the other person’s harmful behavior: control, manipulation, or shame. If a young girl has a soul tie with her best friend, but this best friend does not truly love her but rather wishes to control her to make herself feel better, the girl will unknowingly agree to be subject to her best friend’s desires and control. It could look like being peer pressured into drinking because the best friend threatened to not be friends with her anymore if she didn’t. Or it could look like the best friend twisting the girl’s words and making her seem like a bad friend whenever she tries to stick up for herself.
Because the girl has a soul tie with this best friend, her soul is influenced in an unhealthy way by her.
But this influence can be more subtle as well: let’s say there is a father who just had his first son. The father is elated because he had a horrible relationship with his father, and he views this new, innocent baby as a way to make up for his unhealed past. On the surface, it looks like the father is a great dad and that he and his son are so close. He’s the coach of his son’s baseball team, and he’s so involved with all of his son’s friends.
But the truth is, the son has been trained since infancy to be in tune with his father’s needs rather than the other way around. His father unknowingly projected that onto his son by putting the expectation on that little baby to love his father in a way that wasn’t his responsibility to. And although the son hates baseball, he’s terrified of the relational consequences of stepping out of his role that he has with his father, so he keeps quiet and numbs his desires to be an artist instead.
Soul ties can be formed through things that are in our control, like over-dependence or idolization–for example, in idolizing a romantic relationship and making your boyfriend/girlfriend your everything.
But soul ties can also be formed through things that were not in our control, like abuse–for example, your father was verbally abusive to you. But in a twisted way, it gave you a clear role in your family which somewhere, subconsciously, felt good and safe. You “find rest in another’s soul,” like the definition from the Place We Find Ourselves points to, by relying on someone else for your identity and safety.
Somewhere along the way, an agreement was made to submit your soul to another soul, whether you were aware of it or not. This doesn’t mean that abuse is the victim’s fault–but it does mean it is the victim’s responsibility to take back their power and agency over their soul.
You can talk about negative soul ties in terms of codependency or a lack of boundaries as well. Any time there is a bond between two humans that should not exist because a boundary was crossed, there is an opportunity for an unholy soul tie.
Another common view of soul ties is what happens when someone has sexual relations with another. Through the brain chemical of oxytocin, deep bonding happens when two people have sex. And because this affects your emotions, desires, and thoughts, it therefore affects your soul, as some would argue.
This can be a wonderful thing for a married couple, but a destructive one for a casual dater. This is another example of how soul ties can be formed for the better or for the worse of an individual.
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Does the Bible Talk about Soul Ties?
The short answer is no, not directly. The Bible does not talk directly about soul ties. You will not find that word anywhere in the Bible.
However, you can certainly find the concept that humans do bond together in a way that affects them spiritually.
For instance, Paul warns in 2 Corinthians 6:14 “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.” A yoke is “a wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to the plow or cart that they are to pull.” So to be yoked to someone means to be attached in such a way that if they go one way, you are pulled to also go that way.
Paul warns against this kind of attachment to unbelievers, because of the negative effect it can have on someone’s spiritual health.
But, deep bonds can be used to positively influence someone spiritually too. For example, David and Jonathan had a deep friendship, described in the Bible in 1 Samuel 18:1 “After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself.” The ESV reads “As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.”
Although this could read as codependent, depending on how you look at it, we do know that David and Samuel had a spiritual friendship, where they helped each other find strength in God (1 Samuel 23:16). It is clear that they had a deep bond that affected their emotions, thoughts, and desires–so, you could define their friendship as a soul tie.
Another example in the Bible that you could argue supports the idea of soul ties is Paul’s warning against sexual immorality in 1 Corinthians 6:15-17:
“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.”
Some use this Scripture to highlight the pitfalls of sexual immorality in the specific terms of soul ties. In the act of becoming one flesh, they are also subjecting Christ to becoming one with a prostitute. It is a little confusing here because “flesh” in Greek is referring fairly specifically to one’s body, not necessarily one’s soul. But then the next sentence talks about being united with the Lord in spirit. We know, however, that the mind, body, and soul are all very interconnected and so we don’t need to become too concerned with cutting clear categories.
The point is, the Bible makes it clear that our bonds with other human beings can affect us on a spiritual level, and we need to be careful with that gift so that it does not become something harmful instead.
Embracing a Biblical View of Relationships
Healthy soul ties, where you are bonded deeply in a safe way that helps you in your walk with God, should be embraced. But unholy soul ties, where someone controls, manipulates, or fills you in an unhealthy way need to be addressed.
The truth is that unholy soul ties can feel good to some extent. We are wired for intimacy, and even if the intimacy is unhealthy, if it’s all you have, it is hard to let go of. But God has created us for more. Although soul ties might feel like love, they are full of selfish ambition and dishonoring your own or others’ boundaries.
Instead, in healthy soul ties, our relationships should reflect the Biblical definition of love: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails,” (2 Corinthians 13:4-8).
To break an unholy soul tie takes inner work and spiritual healing. It takes investigating how the soul tie was formed, what unhealthy “benefit” you receive from it, letting go of that benefit, forgiving that person, repenting of any sin that involved that person, healing the boundary that was broken, and declaring yourself free. I highly recommend listening to this podcast episode for starters, and exploring whether or not counseling would be beneficial as well.
God is a wonderful God for letting us form deep bonds that can sharpen us, like iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17). But Satan can use these bonds against us. Pray for God to reveal any unholy soul ties that might be hindering you from the healthy relationships God desperately wants you to have, do the inner work, and be free!
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